When a person becomes too sick or weak to stay in their own home, a retirement village or nursing home might be the only practical alternative. Doctors who look after people in nursing homes are occasionally asked by nursing staff to see a resident who is causing them trouble because they are thought to be having sex with one of their visitors … ‘Could you fix it please Doctor?’ The problem is not so much the activity itself, but the perception that a need for sexual expression in the elderly is an abnormality that needs to be ‘fixed’. The problem has even more to do with architecture than attitudes. If you actually look at the layout of some of the older institutions you will see that they virtually ignore any right to privacy. A flimsy curtain suspended from the ceiling in a room with four beds occupied by strangers is hardly conducive to a quiet cuddle for two people who may have shared the same bed for over fifty years.

Elderly homosexual people have particular difficulties in this area. Retirement villages and nursing homes are just not geared for people who prefer same-sex partners, and so aging will make the prospect of social isolation even more likely. The problem is probably greater for men than for women because society has less trouble accepting close and loving relationships between women than between men. In either case it is clear that this group of people have special needs as they age that are not being met by the current system. Part of the reason for this is that this group in the community has been virtually invisible until this generation. So what are the solutions?

The first is to somehow integrate the needs of elderly homosexual people into the existing structures. Now this may sound simple enough on the surface, but when you consider the potential barriers it is not as easy as it sounds. To overcome those barriers there would need to be special training or selective employment of nursing and domestic staff. The heads of various government departments and administrators of the nursing homes or retirement villages would need to be supportive of the idea and willing to spend the money to put the changes in place, and the relevant politicians would need to see some political gain for themselves.

The other option is to develop special purpose retirement and nursing home facilities to cater specifically for the needs of the aging gay population. This concept is already in practice for some ethnic and religious groups. Some might say that this approach is separatist, far removed from the cosier notion of everyone accepting the individuality of others. But we are trying to deal with realities here. No single solution is going to be the right one, so what we are talking about is choice, freedom and right to privacy.


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